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9.7.6 Spike Bike Retrospective


This article is from the Misc Bicycles FAQs, by various authors.

9.7.6 Spike Bike Retrospective

From: fish@ihlpa.ATT.COM (Bob Fishell)

Copyright (c) 1989 by Robert Fishell

[In the year 1989, one man rails in futility against the tyranny of
the automobile...]


Springtime in northern Illinois comes late, too late for me to wait
for balmy breezes and sunny skies to begin hard training. I can't stand
my wind trainer, and the trails are often too icy for off-road mountain
biking, so I've been hitting the roads. Sometimes I can get a partner
or two, but mostly, I'm out there by myself, friendless and defenseless.
Just me and THEM.

In the winter of 1980, I quit smoking. A month or so later, I
decided to do something about the ravages thirteen years of tobacco
addiction had inflicted on my body. I considered jogging, nearly threw
up on myself just thinking about it, and bought a bike instead. It was
a 32-lb department-store superclunker, but it had ten gears and drop
handlebars. It was to change my life forever.

I'd not had the bike for long before the pattern was set. One: I
was hooked. Despite its massive, water-pipe frame, flimsy steel rims,
80-PSI gumwalls, pot-metal brakes, and all the other frailties junk is
heir to, this amazing machine gave me a sense of freedom, an
exhilaration I thought I'd lost along with childhood. I knew right away
this was for me, and that I'd be doing it until the day I die. Two: I
discovered that day could come prematurely. I'd already encountered
some of THEM. I was thus forced to make a decision: I could cower in
some health club, buy a set of running shoes, and let THEM dictate how I
enjoy my free time, or I could defy the bastards and maybe get
slaughtered in the process. As you all know, I took the latter option,
and I've been living with it ever since.

Every year that decision gets harder and harder to live with. Every
year I ride more and more miles, 4500 in '87, 6000 in '88. I've set a
goal of 7500 for 1989, provided I survive. Every spring I think about
the close calls of years past, about the impermanence of human flesh,
and about the weak law of large numbers and all those goddamn CARS.
Maybe only one driver in 100 gives me any real trouble, but there are
so, so many of them. So many of THEM.

It gives me the heebie-jeebies when I think about it, so I don't
think about it. I've made my decision, and I will not go back on it,
the increasing risks notwithstanding. I'm not going to have my life run
by a bunch of hotheads, rednecks, hell-raisers, and half-dazed morons
who don't even watch the road half the time, let alone look out for
bikes. I hate them. I hate them all. Mile after mile I ride on,
seething with hatred and contempt, ever-vigilant and wary of every
mechanical monster that comes within my sphere of awareness. Watch and
hate. Listen and hate. I have to hate THEM, or they'll scare me out of
my shorts. Hate is a strong emotion. Stronger, even, than fear.

Last spring I dropped into a local sporting-goods store to pick up
a supply of those terrycloth sweatbands that vanish without a trace in
the laundry. A display case in the store caught my eye: GUNS. There
were hunting rifles, target pistols, even an imposing Redhawk .44
magnum. One piece in particular prompted a closer look: a double-action
.38 Smith & Wesson revolver with a snub-nosed barrel. It was perfect.
Small and easily tucked away in a jersey pocket, it could be drawn and
fired in a split second without having to fuss with a safety catch or a
receiving bolt. You could keep one hand on the handlebars to steady
your aim. Perfect. And it could be had for a few hundred bucks, well
within the means of any credit-card-carrying yuppie such as myself.

I don't know how long I stood there looking at it. The reality of
that cold steel mingled with eight years' accumulation of a hatred that
borders on paranoia, and something dark and ugly stirred within me. On
the other side of the glass was a fistful of revenge, and all it would
take was a little bit of paperwork and some of my disposable income, and
it could be all mine. That thought scared the crap out of me. I
quickly fled the gun department, bought a handful of the sweatbands I'd
come in for, and left the store feeling very shaken. Days later, I was
still disturbed about it. For just a moment, perhaps for just a split-
second, I'd actually felt the impulse to do it, to call the salesman
over, plop down my Visa card, and do something that would almost
certainly ruin my life -- and could very well end it. I know now, as I
realized then, that as long as I own a bicycle, I must not own a gun.
Having made _that_ decision, I felt a whole lot better.

The incident brought into focus a peculiar problem, though. I need
my hatred to give me the courage to ride, but I have too much of it left
over, pent up. I needed an outlet. I'd already settled the matter of my
carrying a gun, but it seemed such a shame to let the idea go completely
to waste. I conjured an image of a man who'd made that decision the
other way, and the result was a story called "My Wild Ride," which I
posted to rec.bikes some time in May of last year. The character in
that story was to disappear in the bursting bubble of a daydream, but he
would return a few weeks later as Spike Bike. I already had the idea of
a vigilante cyclist who would wreak vengeance on the dregs of motorized
society. All I needed was the proper setting to put him in. In what
sort of society might such a man emerge? I didn't have to think about
that for too long.

I chose our own society of course, making just a few minor changes
here and there. I had a little fun with it, getting ideas from current
events: ruthless corporate takeovers, trade protectionism, political
corruption, and rampant urban sprawl. But the central premise of the
Spike series was the Bicycle Act of 1992, which formally strips cyclists
of all the rights which have been informally stripped away already,
i.e., now, in 1989. That's right, 1989. Now. Today. We have no rights.

Don't take my word for it. If you want to discuss your rights, ask
that son of a bitch who just honked you, cut you off, and flipped you
the bird. Ask Officer Rupp. Ask your State representative, who will
dismiss you as a crank and subsequently ignore you. The only reason we
get to ride at all is that there aren't quite enough of THEM to get
bikes outlawed. The fact is, most people just don't give a damn one
way or the other. Certainly not about us. But to the extent that's
changing, it's changing for the worse. Bike bans are more and more
prevalent, e.g., Sheridan Road here in Chicago. By 1992, there could
very well be a law to get us off all the roads.

There may be some hope nevertheless. The Spike Bike series ends
with his society moving in a positive direction. The bicycle becomes a
symbol of opposition to the forces of Evil. Inspired by Spike Bike,
people take to the roads in ever-increasing numbers, in spite of the
risks. It's the same in our own society. If you want to be able to
ride tomorrow, ride today, and take a friend with you. Better yet, take
two friends, not people who ride all the time, but people who've, maybe,
just quit smoking and are looking for a way to get in shape. You see,
the more of US there are, the easier it will be to deal with THEM.

Spike began to understand this, too, near the end. He realized
that one man could do little to change things, despite all his resources
and skill. Benevolent creator that I am, however, in the series'
climax I gave him an opportunity to be a real hero (and gave myself a
neat way of wrapping things up). The world Spike saves is better than
the one he shoots full of bullet holes; it is better, even, than the
reality of 1989. Perhaps I'm an optimist, or perhaps I just don't like
to tell depressing stories. You get enough of those from the Ten
O'clock News.

The Spike Bike series was cathartic for me. I had something to get
off my chest, and to all of you who enjoyed the stories and encouraged
me to write more, I offer my heartfelt thanks. I'm no Hemingway. I'm
just a hack engineer who harbors a frustrated writer within, and it's
nice to have a way to let off a little steam, to indulge in a little
fantasy, and know there's somebody out there who gets a kick out of it.
It was fun. Thanks for coming along.

I'll be away from my office for a couple of weeks, so I'll be off
the net for a while. I'll leave all of you with a couple of things to
think about, though.

Spike did something after he arrived at the salt mine's control
center. What did he do, and why would he do it?

Spike logged out half an hour before the Bomb went off.


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